The Netherlands is a multicultural society, which means customs and traditions from other countries have become part of the Netherlands. Various dietary habits from Suriname, including fruit and vegetables, have now become integrated in the Netherlands. Yet Rajesh Bharatsingh of Surinamese fresh produce import company Safe BV from Rotterdam has noticed that demand for Surinamese fruit and vegetables has been decreasing in recent years.
South American Food Express, or Safe, from Rotterdam has long been active in the import of Surinamese fresh produce. The products arriving in the Netherlands are mostly fresh products used in Surinamese cuisine, according to Rajesh. “We get a few types of vegetables that are leading in Surinamese cuisine,” he says. “Bitter melon, aubergine and okra are good examples. But African eggplant, asparagus bean and peppers are vegetables often used in Surinamese cooking. What's special about the vegetables is that they aren’t grown all over the world, but they are often only produced in Suriname. Suriname naturally remains our motherland, and that’s why the connection also remains special. But we aren’t just active in Suriname. We also import from countries such as Thailand, Mexico and Spain. Not all types of fruit and vegetables can be grown in all types of soil. That’s why we’re always looking for the right soil and the right climate. To this end, we continue to look in various parts of the world.”
Special varieties aren’t just found in the field of vegetables, according to Rajesh. Much fruit is also sent from the South American country, although that’s less distinctive compared to vegetables according to him. “The most popular types of fruit are the types you’ll find in Asia as well, for example,” he says. “However, Suriname still has a group of fruit types that can practically only be found in South American countries. Yellow mombin and soursop are good examples.”
Although there’s plenty of supply in Surinamese fresh produce, a turning point can be seen regarding demand for Surinamese fruit and vegetables for the Dutch market, according to the wholesaler. He says demand for overseas products decreases per generation. “We’ve been importing fruit and vegetables from Suriname for 30 years, but we’ve seen demand gradually decreasing,” Rajesh says. “It’s not just that demand is decreasing, the fresh Surinamese supply isn’t always the price or quality that we prefer. That’s why we’re also looking for fruit and vegetables in other countries. The ratio between price and quality is a bit crooked. An example: Various outlets ask between 5.95 and 6.95 per kilogram of asparagus bean from Suriname. But French beans are sold for 2.95. It’s not a difficult choice to make for many households, especially if they’re not well-off, financially.”
But importing Surinamese products isn’t always as easy due to multiple factors, according to Rajesh. “Products from Suriname sometimes have bad packaging, which is combined with bad transport. The products take ten hours of air freight to arrive in the Netherlands. But the process before that is much longer. From the moment the exporter packs the fresh produce to the packing station in Suriname takes about 24 hours. Besides, Surinamese vegetables still arrive in large boxes. KLM/SLM transport is so bad that wonderfully beautiful vegetables arrive 24 hours later. The fresh products therefore often look like they’re a week old. This is because of packaging and transport. If people then dare ask 5.95 euro per kilogram, the consumer should at least expect great quality, which isn’t always the case now.”
The Dutch like Surinamese fresh produce
The products imported by Safe are directly shipped to the Netherlands from South America. The Belgian market is also gradually becoming more familiar with Surinamese fruit and vegetables. “For about two years now, the types of fruit and vegetables have been becoming more popular in Belgium,” Rajesh says. “We’ve seen demand for products increasing there. Surinamese fresh produce is becoming more popular in Belgium, because more Surinamese people are emigrating to Belgium. Both in the Netherlands and in Belgium, the fruit and vegetables can mostly be found in tokos and Surinamese restaurants, but also in supermarkets. The people who moved from Suriname to the Netherlands are the ones eating products from this country most. Dutch Surinamese people eat Surinamese fruit and vegetables more as well, after all, they grew up with the products.”
Popular in the Randstad
Twice per week, the Surinamese products are exported to the Netherlands. According to Rajesh, the fresh fruit and vegetables are getting competition from variants with a longer shelf life. “We primarily import fresh, but we’ve noticed a rise in the field of frozen products. Frozen products have advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that a bit of quality is always lost. The product doesn’t look as well as before it was frozen. The advantage is that products are available year-round. They have a consistent price and products have a longer shelf life. We aren’t active in dried products. The Surinamese prefer eating fresh. Dried fruit and vegetables have never really been popular with the Surinamese. But we naturally keep an eye on it.”
Yet Surinamese fresh produce continues to be something unique, according to Rajesh. “Even considering Surinamese fresh produce is only a fraction compared to total fresh produce in the Netherlands,” he says. “That’s why our products are so special, as well. We try to serve our niche market as well as possible by understanding our target audience and by continuing to innovate.
For example, we look at trends: supermarkets, for instance, are now emphatically working on putting exotic products on the map more clearly. Because of this it’s becoming a bit more difficult for tokos. People all over the Netherlands have been eating healthier for a while now, and that’s only been good for Surinamese fresh produce within the Randstad. We’re now seeing tokos are becoming more like specialist’s shops. Consumers can be pleasantly introduced to our Surinamese fruit and vegetables this way.”